Brandin Cooks

Bears-Rams shaping up as Smiths-vs-Grabowskis II?

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USA TODAY

Bears-Rams shaping up as Smiths-vs-Grabowskis II?

“Some teams are fair-haired. Some aren't. Some teams are a Smith, some are a Grabowski... We're a Grabowski.” -Mike Ditka, 1985
 
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A long time ago in an NFL galaxy that now seems far, far away… .
 
…a Los Angeles team exuding Hollywood came to Soldier Field for an NFC Championship game. They were the “Smiths,” aka the Rams. Waiting for them were the Ditka-styled Grabowskis, the Bears. Ditka, missing no opportunity to cast any event in apocalyptic terms, set the game as an epic struggle between the fair-haireds and the scruffies.
 
History usually doesn’t repeat itself verbatim. But sometimes it can come interestingly close...

Then
 
Those Smiths were LA Flash. Eric Dickerson running the football. Henry Ellard catching it. Ron Brown with his Olympic gold medal opposite Ellard. All three of them All-Pro’s. A Heisman Trophy winner (Charles White) as a backup. Four of five offensive linemen with Pro Bowls on their football curriculum vitae, topped by Hall of Fame-bound tackle Jackie Slater. 

Waiting for them were a bunch of Grabowskis, who had their own elites (No. 1’s Jim Covert, Willie Gault, Dan Hampton, Jim McMahon, William Perry, Keith Van Horne, Wilber Marshall, Otis Wilson, and Walter Payton).

But they were relative mutts compared to the LA Flash, or at least Ditka set it up that way. Jay Hilgenberg was undrafted; Mark Bortz and Richard Dent would’ve been now, being eighth-round selections back then. New England didn’t want Steve McMichael and cut him.

Now

So here’s another bunch of “Smiths,” with seven No. 1 picks (theirs and others’) on defense alone, plus three more on offense (quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, wide receiver Brandin Cooks) and four No. 2’s. All this topped by a head coach – Sean McVay – hailed as the embodiment of the new NFL flash and innovation.
 
Waiting for them Sunday night will be the “new” Grabowskis, who have their own No. 1’s (theirs and others’): Prince Amukamara, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith (how’d an actual “Smith” slip in here?) and Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears traded up for their quarterback just like the Rams did for theirs. And their coach Matt Nagy is certainly offense-cool ’n’ all.
 
There are some similarities. Both have high No. 1’s at quarterback; both teams jettisoned defense-based head coaches (Jeff Fisher from Los Angeles, John Fox from Chicago) in favor of young-ish guys from backgrounds of offense.

But sorry, it’s just not the same.
 
Aaron Donald’s press conference was national stuff when the Rams made him the highest-paid defensive player in history before this season.
 
Mack brought his mom and dad to his.
 
Donald’s original team (Rams) just kept throwing money at him until he signed; Mack’s (Raiders) didn’t want to pay him and preferred college kids in the form of draft choices.
 
The Rams were hailed for being bold for dealing up to get their quarterback (Goff). Bears GM Ryan Pace was widely dubbed an idiot for doing the same to get his.
 
The Smiths have arguably the best running back (Gurley) in the NFL. The Grabowskis finish each week answering questions about where theirs (Jordan Howard) is.
 
The Smiths have a galaxy of star No. 1’s up front on their 3-4: Donald, Michael Brockers, Ndamukong Suh. The Grabowskis don’t have any No. 1’s in their “3” and their best defensive lineman (Akiem Hicks) was cast aside, traded by the team that drafted him (New Orleans) and not re-signed by the team (New England) that traded for him.
 
The first Smiths-Grabowskis confrontation ended with the snow swirling as Marshall picked up a fumble and was escorted to the end zone where the Super Bowl waited.
 
This one could end amid swirling snow, and Mack could reprise the Marshall drama. No one expects these Grabowskis to go on to the Super Bowl, of course, but…

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Fantasy Football: Bold predictions for 2017 NFL season

Fantasy Football: Bold predictions for 2017 NFL season

Fantasy Football is all about taking educated guesses.

You can look at your respective teams over and over and over again throughout the week, and there's still a good chance you'll be second guessing your lineup decisions.

Nobody's found the correct recipe for success.

Which is why the majority of our bold predictions will probably look like a train wreck when the season concludes.

For more analysis on our bold predictions and a look ahead to Week 1, listen to the latest Fantasy Football Fix Podcast.

1. Marcus Mariota will be the No. 1 fantasy PLAYER this season.

Oftentimes, even in PPR leagues, QBs rank as the No. 1 overall fantasy player simply by virtue of volume. Of course, there's also a smaller gap between the top QBs and the mid-tier options, so I'm not saying Mariota will be the most VALUABLE fantasy player this season. But put together his amazing efficiency throughout his career, his low turnover rate, his ability to scramble/run and an increase in weapons are all tangible things to point to. But what about the fact he's now entering his third year in the league and playing with a ton of confidence? (Tony Andracki)

2. C.J. Prosise will become a Top 25 RB in PPR leagues.

He's currently listed third on the Seahawks' depth chart entering Week 1, but I don't expect that to continue. Plus, he could be listed third and still wind up with the most fantasy points of anybody not named Russell Wilson in Week 1. Depth charts mean nothing in the flow of the game. But even still, the two guys ahead of him — Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls — carry huge question marks, including injury concerns. Prosise is dynamic and electric and is a far better receiver than either guy ahead of him. He averaged more than 8 yards per touch last season, proving he can be a major fantasy factor even if he doesn't get 20 touches a game. Chris Carson is not a concern, despite a huge preseason. Christine Michael and Robert Turbin had major preseason impacts with the Seahawks in the past and never were close to be worth a roster spot in fantasy. By the time the fantasy playoffs roll around, Prosise will be the unquestioned top Seattle back to own if he stays healthy. (TA)

3. John Brown will be the best fantasy WR in Arizona.

Larry Fitzgerald is going 19th among WRs, 45th overall. Brown is the 54th receiver off the board, 133rd overall. Fitzgerald is 34 now and even though he had an absolutely fantastic season last year, it was mainly by sheer volume. He averaged a career-low 9.6 ypc and faded down the stretch, scoring just 1 TD in his last 11 games with 5 rpg, 36 ypg in his last four contests. He had 1,023 yards, but only one game over 100 on the season. My point? There's plenty of room for Brown to emerge as a successful weekly option even if Fitzgerald repeats, but there are so many signs pointing to regression for Fitz. Brown, meanwhile, finally seems to have his sickle cell condition under control and he's only one year removed from a 65-catch, 1,003-yard, 7 TD performance and that was with Fitz two years younger and Michael Floyd eating up 89 targets, 849 yds and 6 TD. (TA)

4. DeMarco Murray finishes outside the Top 25 running backs.

He's 29 now, he's coming off a season in which he accrued more than 340 touches and last year was a bit of a fluke, even for him. Prior to 2017, Murray had 215 receptions, but only two of those went for TDs. Last year, he had 3 receiving TDs, which seems like an aberration and rather unsustainable. Even if he stays healthy — he's only missed one game the last three seasons — there's no guarantee he stays productive (remember his 2015 season where he barely topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage and only had 7 TDs in 15 games? Plus Derrick Henry has proven he's capable of taking on a bigger load. The Titans offense runs through Mariota now (this is HIS team) and they have their sights set on contending and won't want to burn out Murray to do so. All that points to a letdown for Murray. (TA)

5. Austin Hooper has more fantasy points than Rob Gronkowski.

Rookie tight ends make almost no impact in the Fantasy landscape. NFL teams want them to come to the league, learn the playbook and block. Keep in mind, that's how it used to be for wide receivers, too, at least in terms of fantasy points. It was typical for the third season in the league to be the breakout for WRs, but then guys like ODB went and blew that narrative out of the water. It's still the case for rookie TEs. Gronk's rookie season wasn't even anything to write home about, besides his 10 TDs because he only racked up 42 receptions and 546 yards while playing every game that season. Hooper is THE guy now in Atlanta, a high-powered offense with plenty of weapons and entering his second year after making no impact as a rookie. This isn't to say that Gronk is going to have a bad season; I'm more worried about his health. I absolutely believe he will average more points per game than Hooper, but he'll ultimately be on the bench for a few games. If you draft Gronk, why not get a guy like Hooper in the last few rounds of the draft as a handcuff of sorts? (TA)

6. Keenan Allen finishes as a Top 10 WR in PPR leagues. 

Allen has yet to play a full season in his NFL career, missing 26 games in four seasons. He's only played in nine contests the last two years. So yes, injury is a concern, but he's currently healthy with no known lingering issues, so there's nothing to say he will for sure get hurt in 2017. When on the field, Allen is one of the top receivers in the league, averaging nearly 6 receptions and 8.5 targets per game. He has a potential to be a PPR monster with at least 6 receptions in 12 of his last 23 games, including 5 double-digit receiving games in that span. He's part of a high-performing offense that airs it out and figures to continue to do so yet again in 2017. For a guy going as the No. 18 WR off the board and 42nd overall, he's been criminally underrated leading into the fantasy season. (TA)

7. Ben Roethlisberger will finish as a Top 5 fantasy QB.

Look, we can all overanalyze Big Ben's home and road splits until we're blue in the face. I get it. But something that can all agree with is that Roethlisberger is a completely different quarterback when he's got Martavis Bryant in the lineup. When Bryant is on the field, Roethlisberger has tossed for 6,385 yards and 41 TDs in 19 games. Those numbers extrapolate to a season average of 5,376 yards and 35 scores, a total that would firmly place Roethlisberger as a Top 5 fantasy scorer at his position. While open for debate, let's not forget he has the NFL's best running back and wide receiver at his disposal in Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. My chips are all in on Big Ben in 2017. (Scott Krinch)

8. Russell Wilson will be the top fantasy scorer.

For the first time in his career, Russell Wilson wasn't a Top 10 fantasy quarterback. Don't expect that trend to continue. There's plenty of signs that point to a major turnaround around for Wilson. The Jimmy Graham of old appears to be lurking around Seahawks' headquarters. A healthy Graham would be a lethal weapon for Wilson in the red zone. Back in the slot, making defenders look foolish with a 3.27 separation rate (70.2 percent of his targets) is Doug Baldwin. Wilson also has emerging outside speed threat targets in Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson. The Seahawks also brought in Eddie Lacy to pair with Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise. Wilson has plenty of talent surrounding him and has no excuse not to exceed his 19.4 points per game average from 2016. (SK)

9. DeVante Parker will be a Top 15 fantasy wide receiver.

Remember when Jay Cutler used to air it out to Alshon Jeffery a few times a game? Well, expect Cutty to go full Cutty this season and let it rip, but only this time he'll be throwing the rock to a player he calls a "faster Alshon Jeffery." Third-year wide receiver DeVante Parker and his new quarterback in Miami have developed quite the connection over the last month. Look for Parker to be Cutler's go-to-guy with the Dolphins and for the former University of Louisville wideout to see at least double the amount of end zone targets (7) he had last year.  (SK)

10. Carlos Hyde will lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns.

"He's the lightest he's been since high school." I know it's cliche and we hear that every offseason referencing a handful of players around the league, but I'm buying it this time around for Carlos Hyde. Under new head coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are going to rely heavily on the ground attack led by Hyde. The former Ohio State running back is coming off a career-best 4.6 yards per carry and has finished in the Top 10 in yards after contact the last two years. Now, he's got a head coach with a proven track record of making running backs elite (Devonta Freeman in Atlanta). With no proven backup running back on the roster and a band of misfits at wide receiver (excluding Pierre Garcon), look for Hyde to deliver a breakout season. (SK)